Lost in an improv scene

It’s OK to Say ‘I Don’t Know’

Improvising is about creating something beyond your imagination with the help of other people. It takes humility, it takes courage, it takes faith. We are creating something out of nothing on a regular basis.

And to do it, we have to stop pretending that we know what we are doing and get comfortable in the not knowing.

For improvisers, “I don’t know what I am doing” is the starting off point. When you admit that, you can truly be in the moment and you can create something wonderful right away. You can use your not knowing as a guide, as a road map that you are on the right path.

Unfortunately, when you’ve been improvising for a while, you get “good” enough and cocky enough to think you actually do know what we are doing. We learn some tricks that help us fake our improv, and if you are like me, you end up doing the same scenes and characters over and over again. Improv is not spontaneous anymore. It becomes safe and predicable – and that is not a good thing.

I gravitate toward safe, but lately, I’ve been in a lot of situations where I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel like I am finally in the deep end of the pool, and I just remembered I am not a good swimmer; actually, I can barely float.

Lauren and I have been trying to have a baby through fertility treatments and it’s so frustrating that I yelled at our doctor the other day. My dad, whom I have a lot of anger and resentment toward, is dying. He left a message on my voicemail that he now has only six months to live and he wants to resolve things before he goes. On top of that, recently I dropped a friend off in our car and he opened the door on a biker and now I am being sued.

These are all areas in my life where I have never been before and clearly, I don’t know what the fuck I am doing.

I feel like one of my students who does a wonderful two-person scene and comes off-stage dizzy and wobbly, seeing stars like a cartoon character who has gotten hit over the head with a giant rubber mallet. The student will embarrassingly say, “I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Isn’t that funny? They have just done their best work, all because they didn’t know what they were doing. They accomplished their mission of creating something beyond their imagination with the help of others, but they had no clue they had succeeded.

I want to be able to accept that being in a place of not knowing is actually a good thing. It’s like I am flying at a higher altitude, and my art (and life) will reach new heights if I can embrace that. It’s part of the evolution of every artist to realize that if you keep stretching and pushing your boundaries, you will hit the place of “I don’t know.”

Now all I need to do is have the wiliness to apply this to my life.

Want a boost to your improv this summer? Check out Jimmy Carrane’s Art of Slow Comedy Summer Intensives July 11-12 and Jul 25-26. Register today!

5 replies
  1. Margot
    Margot says:

    Thanks for this and sorry for all you’re going through.Remembering that I don’t know what I don’t know can help me get out of my own way and head, especially when I think I know what would really add to the scene. Instead of listening, I bring my agenda and lose all spontaneity. I look froward to your blog every week, thanks again!

  2. Roseanne
    Roseanne says:

    Jimmy, your blog inspires me every week. I’m at a very similar point in my life and recently said to my dad “I don’t know how the fuck I got here”. Just keep going. It can only get better from here.

  3. Karen S
    Karen S says:

    Thanks Jimmy. I love how open and willing you are to share the ups and downs of your life. It’s refreshing and real. I’m going to try and use this perspective when something comes at me that I didn’t expect and have never dealt with before, on or off stage.

  4. Robin
    Robin says:

    Jimmy, thank you for your resonating words. They vibrate with wisdom. Its an wonderfull new world we are standing in. And as naked, lonely and vulnerable this place feels like. Know that we are in it together. I love you. Big hug

  5. Yvan_R
    Yvan_R says:

    Thanks for this beautiful and vulnerable post, Jimmy.
    I can totally relate to this feeling. In French, we say “Il faut savoir se perdre pour mieux se retrouver”, which would be “You have to get lost to find again your true self”.
    Have a good day!


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